Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cook-a-thon Round One

In the course of my mommy blog travels, I ran across Once A Month Mom. The main feature that drew me to this site is a monthly cooking plan and menu for a cooking extravaganza -- one big effort, and you've got meals in the freezer for half the month or so. The menus are designed around a two-family, day-long event -- but besides being a single family sort of gal, I don't really feel as if I have a full weekend day to devote to this. Since we both work outside the home, weekdays are also difficult. I made a series of alterations to their overall plan and broke the work into a couple of phases, which I think worked out fairly well.

  • Step 0: Read through the plan and get a sense of what's involved.
  • Step 1: Sort through the google doc documents from the site -- there's a general plan, a shopping list, and a recipe list. Save a copy of the google docs for your own editing. Remove any recipes (and the corresponding ingredients) you don't intend to include. Edit down the shopping list to remove any ingredients you already have, won't use, etc.
  • Step 2: Watch for sales on the items in the list that you're missing, and stock up as you can.
  • Step 3: When the gap between what you have and what you need is fairly short -- or there are good sales on perishables -- it's time to trigger the final shopping trip to bridge that gap.
  • Step 4: Defrost meat, if needed.
  • Step 5: Follow the 'day before' instructions to cover anything that needs to be simmered/soaked overnight. Prepare any items that are raw meat + ingredients.
  • Step 6: Chopping time -- cut up vegetables and such, and put them into plastic bags.
  • Step 7: Cooking time! My first time around, I trimmed 3 items from my recipe list due to lack of time and lack of interest (should have read the recipes more carefully....), and held one until the following day.
  • Step 8: Leftovers time -- see what you can assemble from whatever is left in your stock of cooked meat, chopped veggies, etc., or freeze it for the future.
My modified version of the OAMM January plan yielded me:
  • 8 eggwiches
  • 2 chicken/broccoli/cheese casseroles
  • 2 bags of buffalo chicken pasta
  • 2 bags of chicken quesadillas
  • 2 bags of taquitos
  • 3 casserole dishes of cannelloni
  • 2 casserole dishes of mexican unstuffed shells
  • 2 bags of mandarin orange chicken
  • 2 bags of roast beef
  • 2 bags of beef fajita starter (actually just raw beef in marinade)
Leftovers: scrambled egg, celery, onion, cheese, chicken. Besides yielding a baby/hubby breakfast from the leftovers, I also cooked up a big pot of chicken chili and set the rest aside for other meals.

All in all, this put at least 21 meals into my freezer (although a couple of them, like the taquitos, are a little on the junk food side and will need to be supplemented by some veggies or salad), for about 12 total hours of effort. Planned out this way, it probably represents at least 20 hours of saved effort -- less time grocery shopping, less time cooking each night, etc. I don't yet know if this will also save us money -- it seems like it fits in nicely with the stockpiling/buy-on-sale mentality, though. Plus we are even less likely to feel the pull of an unplanned restaurant meal if we have zero-effort food ready to go in less time than it takes a delivery person to get to our house. My favorite anticipated benefit, thought, is stress reduction. There is something rather nice about contemplating a freezer full of dinners when you are a 35 weeks pregnant, mother of a toddler, outside the home working kinda gal.

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